Capitalism in space: The private company ArianeGroup has now gotten the okay from the European Space Agency (ESA) to begin full development of its new Prometheus rocket engine, intended to reduce costs 10x.
By applying a design-to-cost approach to manufacturing Prometheus, ESA aims to lower the cost of production by a factor of ten of the current main stage Ariane 5 Vulcain 2 engine. Features such as variable thrust, multiple ignitions, suitability for main and upper stage application, and minimised ground operations before and after flight also make Prometheus a highly flexible engine.
This Prometheus precursor runs on liquid oxygen–methane which brings high efficiency, allows standardisation and operational simplicity. Methane propellant is also widely available and easy to handle.
Essentially, ArianeGroup is going to try to build its own methane-powered rocket engine, having seen the success that SpaceX has so far had with its own Raptor methane engine. This also signals an increased recognition at ESA and ArianeGroup that their new Ariane-6 rocket, whose first launch is still about a year away, is not going to be competitive with SpaceX’s offerings, and needs to be upgraded or replaced.
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